Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Hoax on America's Hoaxter in Chief

Remember the Montreal DJs who fooled Sarah Palin into believing she had French president Nicholas Sarkozy on the line? It turns out they pulled the very same stunt a year earlier on George w. Bush.

The CKOI radio duo, who call themselves the "Masked Righters of Wrong," managed to bluff their way into getting the number for the direct line to Bush in the White House situation room in 2007. They agreed not to release the tape of their stunt until after the change of administrations.

Radio CKOI will be airing the tape tomorrow, April Fool's Day


What Do the Tories Know That We Don't? Ask Mulroney

Is the Pope Catholic? Is Brian Mulroney a Tory? Yes to the first, depends who you ask to the second.

The Conservative Television Network reports there's some disagreement between Conservative 'sources' and Mulroney as to whether Lyin' Brian is still a Tory.

Senior Conservatives contacted select reporters Tuesday to tell them Mulroney had effectively torn up his party card.

"I can confirm he is no longer a member," said one Conservative source.

Mulroney briskly fired off an unequivocal statement through his public relations team.
"I remain a member of the Conservative Party and I will remain so until the day I die," Mulroney said.

The bizarre dispute over Mulroney's party membership is a sign of just how bilious the relationship between the Harper government and Mulroney has become.

Makes you wonder whether the Harpies have sized up what's coming at the Oliphant inquiry and figure it'd be a good idea to try to distance the CPC from the former Tory PM.


Air Canada Crashing Again?

It couldn't happen to a more deserving airline. Air Canada is said to be on the verge of seeking bankruptcy protection for the second time in six years.

The problem this time is the usual - recession, falling bookings, pension deficits and, of course, being trounced at the hands of our very own, Western airline - WestJet.

Take a WestJet flight some time and you'll find it filled with travellers who've written off Air Canada long ago. What once was known as the People's Airline has alienated a lot of its customer base over the past decade.

In my former practice I wound up acting for a lot of pilots, some from Air Canada and many others from names now just memories - WardAir, Canadian Pacific Airlines, Pacific Western Airlines, Canadian Airlines International. Through a host of bad planning and management, they were all swallowed up, in turn, until what remained was incorporated into the latter day Air Canada, itself a shabby vestige of what it had once been.

To my thinking, the hapless thing we know as today's Air Canada is simply the end result of Mulroney's disastrous plan to privatize Air Canada and deregulate Canada's airlines. Prior to Mulroney Canada's two flag carriers were well regulated. Each was given priority on specific regions and high-profit routes. In exchange for that, each was also obligated to provide service to less-profitable, secondary airports which did a lot to open up this country from the 50's through the 70's.

Once Mulroney deregulated the airlines, Canadian Pacific and Air Canada went after the high-profit routes like two dogs after the same steak. For example, both airlines were operating densely packed schedules of nearly-empty airplanes between Vancouver and Toronto every day. Each wanted domination over the other on that route and each was prepared to bleed itself in the process. Seat-mile revenues plummeted, leaving both airlines mortally weak to the inevitable fluctuations in our economy.

At the end, Canadian Pacific (now renamed Canadian Airlines International) was the closest to financial death when it made a bid to save itself by attempting to take over Air Canada. After a lot of vicious maneuvering, Canadian Airlines International was itself taken over by Air Canada but what emerged was not the Air Canada of the 70's. It never really recovered.

In the years since it first resorted to bankruptcy protection, Air Canada has tried - and failed - to compete with the newcomer, WestJet. Now it appears to be back on the ropes, again.

Shattering Delusions of Afghan Progress

When the dwindling ranks of cheerleaders for the Afghan occupation speak out, it's generally to raise all the progress on women's rights. Right.

As The Guardian points out, with the stroke of his presidential pen, Hamid Karzai has consigned Afghan women back to the Dark Ages:

Hamid Karzai has been accused of trying to win votes in Afghanistan's presidential election by backing a law the UN says legalises rape within marriage and bans wives from stepping outside their homes without their husbands' permission.

The Afghan president signed the law earlier this month, despite condemnation by human rights activists and some MPs that it flouts the constitution's equal rights provisions.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.

Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, said the law was "worse than during the Taliban". "Anyone who spoke out was accused of being against Islam," she said.

Read more here:


When Banks Won't Foreclose

You know that Lewis Carrol has been writing your economic rules when lenders can't be bothered to foreclose on delinquent mortgages. They hold the mortgage, the borrower is in default, the property is theirs for the taking - but they just walk away.

Two problems. A collapse in housing prices. A considerable surplus in housing stocks. The two combine and, at the very bottom, you have houses that are worth so little in today's economy that it's not worth even foreclosing on them. It's cheaper to just walk away. From The New York Times:

City officials and housing advocates here [South Bend, Indiana] and in cities as varied as Buffalo, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., say they are seeing an unsettling development: Banks are quietly declining to take possession of properties at the end of the foreclosure process, most often because the cost of the ordeal — from legal fees to maintenance — exceeds the diminishing value of the real estate.
The so-called bank walkaways rarely mean relief for the property owners, caught unaware months after the fact, and often mean additional financial burdens and bureaucratic headaches. Technically, they still owe on the mortgage, but as a practicality, rarely would a mortgage holder receive any more payments on the loan. The way mortgages are bundled and resold, it can be enormously time-consuming just trying to determine what company holds the loan on a property thought to be in foreclosure.

In Ms. [Mercy] James’s case, the company that was most recently servicing her loan is now defunct. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy and dissolved. And the original bank that sold her the loan said it could not find a record of it.

In a city like Detroit, with the automakers on the ropes, and layoffs in the tens of thousands rippling through the economy, bottom-end houses have been selling for less than $10,000. It's a contagious problem. When property prices begin to be set by delinquent mortgagors, homeowners who keep their mortgages in good standing see their equity go into the negative column which can kill their ability to refinance when the mortgage term ends. In that way, the bad mortgage debt can trigger the default in an otherwise good mortgage debt.

America's surplus housing stocks remains an unaddressed problem. With subprime mortgages and "liar loans" fueling Bush's ridiculous "Ownership Society" a lot of people whose income wasn't adequate for home ownership did in fact acquire houses. It moved on right up the chain. People who ought to have had modest houses instead got finer houses than their incomes could support. Others got several houses, sometimes on "interest only" mortgages, hoping that soaring house prices would let them rake in enough profits to let them wind up with one clear-title dream home and a fat bank account to boot. Thus the housing sector, construction and finance, became the engine of America's economy. It became, as Paul Krugman noted years earlier, a fictional land of wealth based on people selling their homes to each other.

Like so many of his initiatives, Bush's Ownership Society proved to be a toxic blessing, an 8-year binge that cemented America's decline. I'd bet that, twenty years from now, the Ownership Society will trump the War on Terror as the greatest scam Bush/Cheney inflicted on their countrymen.

And so America finds itself with far more houses than eligible homeowners. CBC's Neil MacDonald did a feature piece recently that trolled through what were just a year or two back burgeoning Florida subdivisions where most of the homes now sit empty, abandoned. They've been so neglected for so long that these really nice little houses are now being ravaged by the elements as once verdant neighbourhoods come to resemble 21st century ghost towns.

Will this end? Sure, of course it will. What's unsettling everyone today is that nobody knows where the bottom lies and that uncertainty is a plague of its own. Prices will plummet to levels considerably lower than their natural floor and then, as they begin to firm up, confidence will return along with suitable buyers. Maybe there'll even be another bubble but I doubt it. Rash lenders have taken a huge, yet well-deserved hit and the scars will last for decades at least.

America's Pendulum Slowly Swings Back

A small, but encouraging development. A Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that, despite the Repugnicant's best efforts, an overwhelming majority of Americans isn't buying the idea that their new president is responsible for their country's economic meltdown.

Despite the furious efforts of the Repugs in Congress and their shills at FOX (Hannity) and elsewhere (Slimebot) to tag Obama with the Bush era mess, Americans by a massive majority put the blame where it belongs - on their financial industry.

Now anyone who reads this blog would think that much was obvious but don't forget this is a citizenry that was totally taken in by an emperor with no pants for many years; a people that believed their houses were infinite ATMs; a nation of borrowers who have truly acted as though they alone could defy gravity. When you've been that far out on the branch for that long, getting back to the centre is a long climb down.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Today's Dumbest Newspaper in Canada

And the prize goes to...

The Globe & Mail

which is today's Dumbest Newspaper in Canada for this headline: "Afghanistan still dangerous, PM says."

Really, The Globe needs Harper to inform the Canadian people that Afghanistan is still dangerous? To cinch the award, the G&M features an utterly vapid editorial on the meltdown by Marcus Gee in the business section.

Fix It Again Tony - FIAT Returns?

Chrysler is headed for a shotgun wedding - to FIAT, Italy's own, often wobbly, auto maker.

To give you an idea of what FIAT has gone through, here's a look at what was happening in 2002. From Business Week:

...Fiat's financial problems are hardly over. Many of them come from Fiat Auto--and those may soon belong to General Motors Corp. (GM ) GM bought 20% of Fiat Auto in 2000 for $2.4 billion and granted Fiat a put option--the right to sell GM the rest--as of January, 2004. Now GM faces a big dilemma. It's short of cash, so a big acquisition would be a serious burden. But if GM waits until 2004, it could be stuck with an even bigger lemon.

Fiat Auto has been careening downhill since GM bought its stake. It lost $1.3 billion in 2001 and is expected to lose another $1 billion this year. Management forecasts breaking even in 2003 and making a slight profit in 2004. But analysts say it'll take three years and $3 billion to $5 billion to reverse its decline.

Will Fiat sell now or later? Much depends on how much GM would pay. Investment bankers say Fiat Auto would be worth nothing if a buyer had to take on its about $1.7 billion of debt. The put terms let Fiat and GM each name bankers to negotiate a "fair market price." But time isn't on Fiat's side. "Things will only get worse for Fiat," says a board member.

Chrysler has had a tortured past with European automakers beginning with Renault in the 80's and Mercedes in the 90's. Just last year there were rumours that Chrysler owner, Cerebrus Management, would sell the US automaker to Renault. Now Mercedes is out, Renault is out, so it's FIAT.

Obama has given Cerebrus just 30-days to ink its "partnership" deal with FIAT. That pretty much gives FIAT the whip hand in dealing with the Americans.

General Motors is no better off. The White House has given what once was the very backbone of American manufacturing just 60-days to come up with a workable restructuring plan or there'll be no more federal support.

In a curious move to keep the automakers and their dealers from total collapse, there's a plan in the works whereby Washington could take over warranty obligations to purchasers of GM and Chrysler vehicles. No word yet on whether Ottawa will follow suit.

It seems inconceivable that the Big Three could turn into One Plus. What would FIAT do with Chrysler other than use it to make another flop attempt at entering the North American market? What of Windsor and Brampton and Oakville? What of every small town where the Ford, Chrysler and Chevy dealers have held sway for the better part of a century? What of Ontario?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

British Police Monitoring Muslim Kids

I'm not sure how I feel about this. The Guardian reports that a British police programme has identified 180 children in Britain as potential Islamist terrorists.

The Channel project, a pilot scheme established in April 2007 and run by six police forces, provides parents, teachers and youth workers with training to recognise the warning signs of "grooming" by radicals and a mechanism to report concerns over a child, or group of children, to the police. A panel of community leaders then decides the best course of action, in the most serious cases referring them to social services.

Keen to assuage fears the scheme targets Muslim children unfairly, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) last night said the aim was to steer vulnerable children away from radicalism before it was too late.

I suppose it makes sense but isn't there someone other than the police force that can handle this? There's just something about cops spying on kids that is worrying.

Back on Track

Barack Obama has a problem. His White House is leaking like a sieve. The upside to it is that it appears the cowboy days of Shrub Bush are history and the executive branch is back to rational decision-making.

The New York Times identified no less than half a dozen officials who spoke to the paper about Obama's decision on Afghanistan. Naturally they all spoke on condition of anonymity.

The debate over the past few weeks offered a glimpse into how Mr. Obama makes decisions. In this case, he chose a compromise between his political and military advisers that some critics say includes some strategic holes, such as a reliance on the same sort of vague guidelines that proved difficult to carry out in Iraq. It also offers insight into the role of Mr. Biden and other members of a foreign policy team that includes many powerful figures vying for Mr. Obama’s attention.

In the end the plan is a compromise that reflected all of the strains of the discussion among his advisers, one that is markedly different, though perhaps no less difficult, from the goals his predecessor set for the region. In speaking of Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush spoke of lofty goals that included building nations that could stand as models of democracy in the Muslim world.

...During the debate, the senior administration officials said, Mr. Biden sought to put strict parameters on the size of the additional force deployed to Afghanistan and to ensure there was a specific mission for them. Mr. Biden also cast the debate in terms of what was achievable in Mr. Obama’s first term, administration officials said.

Mr. Biden, White House officials said, was heavily influenced by the trip he took to Afghanistan and Pakistan just before the inauguration in January. He observed to Mr. Obama that if you asked 10 people on the ground what American objectives were, he would get 10 different answers. That observation, aides said, carried weight with Mr. Obama and helped to lead to his decision to narrow the American goal in Afghanistan.

Contrast this with former State Secretary Colin Powell's revelation that he only learned about Bush's decision to invade Iraq after it had already been taken. And look how well that turned out.

I'm still curious whether the Times' sources were really telling tales out of school or was it intended they would get the message out?

Spector's Path to Acquittal

Aging pop record producer Phil Spector won't be convicted of murder in this, his second trial on the charge. Defence counsel have already got the keys to the jailhouse door.

If Spector is convicted, so will a couple of his jurors. The difference is that Spector's conviction would be set aside but the jurors won't be so lucky.

In a move that argues for sequestration of juries, particularly on major cases, the Spector jury has been given a four-day break, not scheduled to return to deliberations until Wednesday. The judge naturally instructed them about discussing the case, reading newspapers, surfing the web and so on to ensure their judgment wasn't tainted.

Spector's lawyers were on that like white on rice. According to a bizarre web site, crimefilenews.com, the defence team have been electronically monitoring the jurors and have already detected jury web surfing and e-mailing.

Here's the predicament. If the jury does convict, Spector's counsel present their evidence that the jury has been tainted and demand a mistrial. In that case, Spector likely gets to walk while the offending jurors have to answer to the judge for sabotaging a four-month long case. In other words, some of the jurors now have a vested interest in holding out against conviction.

If the jury does acquit Spector, the defence surveillance evidence won't surface and and defendant and the jurors will all simply go home.

I think the judge, Larry Paul Fidler already has an enormous problem on his hands. The jury is already tainted. The story is out. He can't ignore it. Unless it's a complete fabrication by a blogger with an overactive imagination the trial seems to be ruined, four months of time, effort and enormous expense down the drain.

To keep the situation in perspective, Fidler gave the jury the four-day break only after they had announced they couldn't agree on a verdict. He wanted to avoid a second, hung jury and so gave them some time to mull it all over before returning to deliberations. I think Fidler knew that, if he kept the jury sequestered, it was over anyway. He could see the writing on the wall and it read "hung jury."

Two hung juries, no eyewitness evidence, somewhat ambiguous and inconclusive forensic evidence, and a bucket full of circumstantial evidence as old as the platinum records adorning Spector's walls - not a confidence builder for a prosecutor. If Spector gets out of this bind that might be the end of the Lana Clarkson murder mystery.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Russia's Arctic Iron Curtain

Moscow is said to expect the Arctic to become its main source of oil and gas by 2020 and it's moving to create an Arctic military force to protect its interests. From BBC News:

In order to protect its assets, Moscow says one of its main goals will be the establishment of troops "capable of ensuring military security" in the region.

With climate change opening up the possibility of making drilling viable in previously inaccessible areas, the Arctic has gained in strategic importance for Russia, says the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow.

Given the fragile nature of the Arctic ecology, the resource rampage by Russia and others should manage to kill off most of it in short order. To date only Norway has acknowledged the environmental threats from Arctic resource extraction. With 90-billion barrels of oil said to be found in the region, exploitation and its associated problems are probably a foregone conclusion.

Think of Ice Station Zebra only without the ice.


Business Leaders Get It - It's Much More Than Global Warming

The fundamental weakness in many approaches to global warming is that it's taken in isolation. Yes, we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, drastically cut them. But we need a holistic approach to a whole series of looming problems of which global warming is but one.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development wants water, energy and climate change issues directly linked.

"Water is everybody's business. It is used to generate energy, and energy is used to provide water. Climate change will affect the use and availability of both. It is important that we get the policies right," said Björn Stigson, the organization's president.

"The World Water Forum in Istanbul has done a lot to focus attention on water, energy and climate change. But there is still a significant gap in addressing all three together at a global level. We must link them in the climate negotiations to have any real hope of finding a solution."

David Frum and Disaster Environmentalism

Spurned by the droolers who make up the base of the Repugnican Party, Frump takes a swipe at environmentalism in today's National Toast:

If conservatives can learn to live with a tax on coal, then environmentalists can learn to live with nuclear power.
Brilliant Davy boy, brilliant. Now run along to the American Enterprise Institute. Donuts and pop for everyone in the boardroom!

Women, Sure - But Catholics?

Britain's Royals have fallen on hard times. It's not just the salary, the benefits are lousy too. And do you have any idea how much those hats and handbags weigh? And all those dreadful cucumber sandwiches!

In order to attract new candidates to the royalty, British MPs are debating amendments to the 1701 Act of Settlement that establishes the rules of succession. Okay, brace yourselves.

First up - giving women in the Royal Family equal succession rights. You knew that was bound to happen sooner or later didn't you.

But the really controversial part is a proposal to allow heirs to the throne to actually marry Roman Catholics! Imagine that, if you can. Catholics in the Royal Family! What's next - Mustapha, Duke of Norfolk? Once you let those Catholics in, believe me there'll be no end to it.

The proposed changes would catapult the Queen's only daughter, Princess Anne from 10th to an ever-so-close 4th place in line of succession. A brake failure here and a tumble down a palace staircase there and, before you know it, she could be sitting in the Big Chair.

Don't expect anything to happen overnight. The proposed changes are raised in a private members bill.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Pope? Distorting Science? Don't Give Me That Or I'll Stone Your Ass Back to The Dark Ages

Those total, know-nothings at the British medical journal (yeah, right - just look at the state of their teeth!), The Lancet are claiming that God's own living, breathing Saint is fudging the truth about condoms and HIV/AIDS.

Damn, isn't there a research or publication grant we can scutttle to make these people shut up? From BBC News:

It said the Pope's recent comments that condoms exacerbated the problem of HIV/Aids were wildly inaccurate and could have devastating consequences.

The Pope had said the "cruel epidemic" should be tackled through abstinence and fidelity rather than condom use.

Correspondents say the attack from the Lancet was unprecedentedly virulent.

Excuse me, but I thought that HIV/AIDS had "unprecedently virulent" trademark protected. Is it really just me?

It's Not Just the Long Gun Registry Any Longer

As a close personal friend and confidante of RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliott, I hear all sorts of things months before it reaches you plebs. Here's one of them.

The RCMP is asking the Justice Minister, the Security Minister, the Minister of Small Wastebaskets and the Prime Minister to create a new weapons registry - the Lethal Stapler Registry (or "LSR").

Across the country, but especially at airports and especially at British Columbia airports and especially at Lower Mainland, British Columbia airports, RCMP officers are reporting an alarming increase in surprise stapler attacks. It's getting so bad that officers are experiencing nightmares in which middle-aged dudes who don't speak English attack; folding, mutilating and stapling them before they can reach their Tasers.

Mental health professionals consulted by RCMP headquarters have concluded the stapler attacks are becoming so widespread and so severe that officers in the field are suffering PTSD and random psychotic events whenever they pass by a stationery store. They're recommending the creation of a Stapler Registry where users can be screened to ensure they represent no threat to police or other demented bastards.

Prime Minister Stephano Harpo says his government will act, although the cost of the new registry could mean repealing the ban on concealed handguns.

Courage friends, courage.

Phil Spector In Jury's Hands - Again

The five month long retrial of legendary record producer Phil Spector has gone to the jury. 69-year old Spector was charged with murder in the shooting death of would-be actress Lana Clarkson at his Los Angeles home six years ago.

Spector claims Clarkson shot herself. The prosecution plainly believes otherwise. The defendant has a long history of carrying hand guns and pulling them on people, including several rock stars who were working with him.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Spector faces a minimum prison sentence of 18-years. If the jury finds him guilty of involuntary manslaughter he faces two to four years in prison. If the jury acquits he'll be the luckiest defendant in an LA courtroom since O.J. Simpson. Either way, he ought to get at least a couple of years for outrageously bad hair.

The first trial ended in a hung jury.

We're In For a Wild Ride

TD Bank economist Don Drummond told the Commons finance committee that the world is going to have a dandy hangover from the bailout/recovery spending binge now underway.

Drummond figures all those trillions of dollars will spark a wave of inflation that will have to be beaten down the old fashioned way - by raising interest rates. The good news from the former Finance Department official is that we're on track for a recovery in 2010. The bad news is that it's going to be a long and slow road back to what we understand as prosperity.

There's going to be an enormous amount of debt to get squared away and it will be in the course of dealing with it that we'll confront just what we did with that money, whether we got much value out of it.

My greatest criticism of the Harper-Ignatieff budget is its near total lack of vision. Yes it was important for the government to get billions of dollars flowing through the economy. Yes the budget seems to do that. But what's just as important is how that money is used, what we get for it.

The government that's just added those billions to our tax bills had a choice to either control where the money went, that is to spend the money itself, or it could simply give it away and lose control of it. The government chose to simply send cash-stuffed envelopes - to some. Some will get a hundred bucks or two to blow at WalMart. Some will get a subsidy to help put a deck on the cottage. Some cities and provinces will get money for infrastructure projects that were already scheduled on the books.

If I was going to build a new deck on the cottage anyway, the government "stimulus" is really just a give away. It didn't stimulate anything. If my city was going to pave some streets anyway, there's a handout without an associated stimulus. In those cases, the government is pledging our good credit and our kids' to borrow money to dole out to the lucky few for essentially nothing. There's no stimulus to that and, worse, there's probably little to no return either.

The government could have spent that money on brand, new projects, legitimate stimulus projects atop everything else that was already on the books. It could have designated projects that would spread the benefit equitably across the country. It could have identified programmes that would enhance our society, make it greener, more effective - thing that would have produced a return to the taxpayers for years to come. Hint - that deck on the cottage doesn't return a damned thing.

Obama's people knew what government spending was supposed to look like. Ours didn't have a clue - not the government of Stephen Harper nor the Opposition leader who supported the wastrel budget. In the result, we're not going to get the value out of all that gigantic debt that we should have. We're not going to get the basic stimulus value, the immediate objective, because a lot of this money won't wind up creating "new" activity. And we're not going to get the economic return that would offset the pain we'll all feel when we have to begin paying this off. There won't be a clean energy programme; or a modern, efficient rail system; or an electricity grid for the 21st Century. All those things that would have represented genuine investments (i.e. with tangible returns) were passed over when the prime minister and opposition leader signed off on this budget.

I'll bet it won't be a year before we wake up and realize just how badly our legislators on both sides of the House bungled this thing, how they let down Canada and her people. It's going to be a wild ride indeed, much wilder than it needed to be.

Survey - When Will Harper Be Deposed and Who Will Do It?

It's hard to imagine Harper surviving yet another minority election - either way. He must be nearing the end of his rope. Either he delivers a majority Conservative government or he's booted out the back door.

I'm sure the knives are coming out. Harper's not a very likeable guy. His sort always makes more enemies than friends.

So, weigh in. Who's going to do the dirty deed? When? Will Harper flee Ottawa on his own or will he be driven out? Will the CPC remain Reform dominated or will that run its course with Harper's fall?

Oh, and by the way. Does anybody know why Bill McKnight will be giving evidence when the Oliphant inquiry into Mulroney begins on Monday?

Pakistan's Perfidy

American government officials claim that officials of Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency are still aiding the Taliban in planning strikes in Afghanistan. From The New York Times:

The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements.

Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Service Intelligence, the officials said. There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections.

If these accounts are true, then we're getting precisely nowhere in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military intelligence service has decided to throw in with the insurgency on that assumption.

Even Musharraf wasn't able to rein in the ISI and, with the civilian government in Islamabad teetering on collapse, it plainly can't either.

Fight with the Canadian Forces - fight the insurgency, fight the corrupt central government, fight the narcotics barons, fight the warlords and, for good measure, fight the Pakistani military. Can you see where this is going?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Out of Jobs, Out of Money, Out of Ideas

The Harper stimulus budget aimed to create a pool of jobs to cushion jobs lost to the recession. At the time, I figured it'd take until February for layoffs to exceed Flaherty's good news estimate. I might have been pessimistic, being partisan and all, but if I was out, it was only by one month.

Parliamentary budget officer Ken Page says Canada has already shed as many jobs as Flaherty promised to create in his January estimates and there's no bottom in sight. From Bloomberg Press:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on Jan. 27 predicted deficits of C$33.7 billion for the 2009-2010 fiscal year and C$29.8 billion for 2010-2011. Page said those figures will instead be about C$38 billion and C$35 billion for the next two years, respectively. Lower tax revenue will lead the wider shortfalls, he said.

“Recent economic data and the Parliamentary Budget Office’s updated survey of private sector forecasters suggest a further significant deterioration in the outlook for the Canadian economy relative to budget 2009 fiscal planning assumptions,” Page said.

Harper and Flaherty are causing Canada and the Canadian people no end of pain by constantly underestimating the fiscal mess we're facing. They keep planning and budgeting for a brush fire when we're being consumed by a forest fire.

In a word, they're "incompetent." The best thing they have going for them is a complacent, timid Official Opposition headed by a man of very limited political depth and unable to communicate any alternate vision when that's what Canadians really need to hear.

US Steelmakers Push for Carbon Taxes on Steelmakers

Sure that sounds implausible until you find out that US steelmakers are demanding carbon taxes on imports from Chinese steelmakers. From Reuters:

"Chinese steelmakers enjoy an unfair advantage in global trade due to the lack of enforcement of exceptionally weak pollution standards," Scott Paul, the executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, told reporters in a teleconference.

Paul said Chinese steelmaking emits two to three times as much carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as U.S. industry does. Also, U.S. steel production has fallen during the global recession, while China's has held mostly steady.

What the American firms are demanding isn't merely justifiable, it's essential. Global warming is a global issue and there's absolutely no excuse for China not to be pumping a good measure of its export-driven wealth into meeting the same standards we expect of domestic producers. Carbon tariffs deliver a powerful incentive to an environmental leveling of the international playing field.


Too Big To Let Die, Too Big To Let Live

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi with Rachel Maddow on why America should no longer tolerate companies "too big to let fail."

Catholics Recoil at Obama Speech to Notre Dame

The Kid-Diddler Brigade is outraged that Barack Obama has been invited to speak at Notre Dame university's commencement ceremonies next month. Seems to have something to do with Obama's decision to take America out of Dark Age fundamentalism by lifting bans on stem cell research in the United States. From The Guardian:

Nearly 90,000 people have signed a petition demanding that Notre Dame University, in Indiana, should withdraw its invitation to the president and rescind its decision to award him an honorary degree.

Bishop John D'Arcy, of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, has promised to boycott the ceremony on 17 May. He said the decision to invite Obama was "shocking".

He said: "While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

Conservative Catholics in the blogosphere have been much more vituperative, referring to the president as a fanatic and "Barack Aborter". Anti-abortion groups have promised to demonstrate at the university during the president's visit, including displaying graphic images of aborted foetuses to those attending the ceremony.

Much Too Dumb for Prime Time

Bobby Jindal is riding to the rescue of - Rush Limbaugh!

Slimebot sparked a controversy when he first told his radio audience that he wanted President Barack Obama to fail. The remark was widely taken as unpatriotic, anti-American. It seemed to coalesce Limbaugh's supporters and opponents alike.

But Limbaugh may be the most popular Republican in the states right now. The Dems have done everything they can to raise Lardo's prominence. The Louisiana governor, however, hasn't been faring as well. The Deep South wunderkind, thought to be the first person of colour to have a shot at the Republican presidential nomination, was selected to give the Republican response to Obama's quasi-state of the union address. Obama was expectedly good. Jindal, by comparison, was sophomoric. He had a few minutes of national television exposure and he bombed.

Now Jindal seems to be grabbing for the Limbot lifeboat. While in Washington for a fundraiser, Jindal said it's okay for Republicans to want President Obama to fail if they think he's jeopardizing the country. I expect we'll hear a lot more of this sort of thing from Jindal as he gropes his way toward a run for the Republican nomination in 2012.

Drabinsky, Gottlieb Found Guilty

It's been 14-years since Toronto's Livent went defunct. Today it's founders, Garth Drabinsky and Myron Gottlieb, were ruled guilty of fraud and forgery.

Prosecutors claimed the two doctored the Livent books which helped them lure in up to $500-million in investment.

Sentencing hasn't come down but, with that kind of money involved, it's a pretty sure bet that Messrs. Drabinsky and Gottlieb are looking at an all-expenses paid stay in Greybar Hotel.

It's a sad day. These two were true driving forces in Toronto's cultural sector.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stuck on Wide Open

Who do we blame for the mess we've made of the world?

A discussion hosted by another blogger a couple of weeks back pointed the finger at the 50's generation of Baby Boomers with their selfish, mass consumption as the culprits. I think that's wrong.

For all their excesses and self-indulgence, the Baby Boomers were merely fulfilling an economic imperative cast for them long before they arrived on spaceship earth that had its roots in the industrial revolution, the Great Depression and the World Wars of the 20th century.

Our parents, the incredible generation that threaded its way through the depression and WWII, set about to make up for lost time - hence the Baby Boom. Something like 70% of the world's remaining industrial capacity was in North America - new factories, new machinery and a skilled labour force. America's pre-war industrial rival, Europe, was a bombed-out hulk. The disparity between North America and the rest of the world was greater than it has been at any time since the end of the 19th Century. If you were in Africa and you needed a truck, you probably bought one made in Detroit because that's where trucks came from back then. There were a lot of middle class, single-income families doing just fine, thank you very much, in Ozzie and Harrietland.

My parents started off with an 800-sq. ft. house before moving into what had to be a 1,200-sq. ft. house that a handful of years later was replaced by a 1,600-sq. ft. house that led to them building their 2,500 sq. ft. waterfront "dream house" where they lived for 30-years, the last 15 of them as empty-nesters. The last time I saw their house it looked small. It was a big house when it was surrounded by groves of trees and farmland. Today the trees and farmland are history, taken over by a suburban madness of 4,000 sq. ft. McMansions on 6,000 sq. ft. lots. There's one waterfront monster that comes in at 18,000-sq. ft., has a double yacht boat well and a lovely pair of davits for launching the jet skis.

This monster house madness is surely the culmination of an economic model that we inflicted on ourselves. Society's wellness was slaved to growth which meant unrestrained consumption was the order of the day. The model was to produce as much as could be sold at the best economic price and to purchase as much as could be had with one's income. You either bought goods and services, the whole gamut of needs and wants, or you bought an interest in the means of production itself, investments in what you had to hope would be particularly profitable businesses selling goods and services to other buyers.

Our cars got bigger and faster and more luxurious; our homes grew to proportions at least one class higher than we had in the previous generation; holidays abroad went from being the preserve of the best off to an aimless diversion for college kids on spring break. Kids, whose parents watched black and white TV and played with clumsy Dinky Toys and rode ordinary, direct drive bikes, grew up with cell phones, colour TVs, game consoles and 21-gear mountain bikes with full suspension and disc brakes.

So yes, we've had it good. Probably far too good. But it hasn't been something that can be laid at the feet of the 50's generation. The blame rests with pretty much everybody of voting age today. It's not a decadal issue. It spans an era, the post-WWII era.

I think I've figured out what happened, where we went wrong. We behaved as we were conditioned to behave, as we were expected to behave, as society required us to behave but that's hardly an excuse. The path was fixed while we had no concept of the consequences of our way of life but ignorance isn't an excuse either.

It all fell apart when my parents' generation and my generation and every generation since abandoned posterity. Many years ago Bill Moyers did an excellent documentary series on posterity. He interviewed some of the greatest thinkers in America on the role posterity had played in shaping that country, how it came to vanish and how and when it might return.

Posterity doesn't fit into our economic model of production and consumption because it creates a fetter on both. We have lost our understanding of the importance of posterity to our society, to our country. We no longer plan today for generations to come far in the future. We no longer look much beyond the next electoral cycle.

Protecting posterity is an act of collective consciousness and will. It is acknowledging that we're entitled to our fair share and no more. We can't have it all without depriving future generations of their fair share. To try to understand the idea of "fair share" imagine if our great, great, great grandparents had followed our path.

Imagine if our ancestors had two things - the ability to consume everything they could get their hands on and a blind indifference to the day when it was our turn to populate this country. Imagine if two or three generations had gone on a rapacious binge gobbling up the world's resources; going into serious deficit on renewables (emptying the oceans, logging off the forests, transforming farmland into desert) and fouling the environment. Then consider how their depredations might impact on your life today. I think that's beyond the imagination of all but the best science fiction writers but that's of no real matter. It's enough in any event to make the case for posterity and the concept of "fair share."

We are not of a generation but of an era that has brought mankind to the wall where the race to consume ends, and ends badly. Yet we have leaders of such astonishing stupidity as to herald Canada as a fossil-fuel superpower for the 21st Century and to proclaim bitumen as a key to national unity and who continue to worship idols at the altar of eternal, damning growth. Where do we find these morons and why do we continue to praise them? These cheap hucksters and fixers have no answers for us, no good place to lead us to and they're utterly bereft of any vision of the future of our country and the legacy we bequeath to those generations of Canadians yet to be born.

If you doubt what I've said, ask Michael Ignatieff or Stephen Harper what they think Canada will be in a hundred years, what sort of future will it hold for our great, great, great grandchildren? If they hold themselves out as fit to lead, they ought to have some fairly specific answers to that and, if they don't, they should be run out on a rail. Because the future of our great, great, great grandchildren is being written today and it's being written indelibly.

Ask them how they will seek to redress our excessive consumption and pointless indulgence. Ask them if they will embrace the "fair share" concept and just what they will do to restore the role of posterity in government policy making. You had better ask them because you're not going to hear a word of it coming out of their mouths otherwise.

It's Raining and Am I Grateful

People living in coastal British Columbia don't much care for this time of year. Some of us call the interval between October and May the "Rain Festival." It rains, a lot. Newcomers are particularly prone to finding the protracted cloudy, rainy conditions more than a bit depressing. Some pack up and leave - or claim they're going to.

The steadily changing global climate has changed the face of the rainy season. With so much of the world lacking water, it becomes much easier to appreciate by those who get plenty of the stuff. The Weather Channel outlook for my town calls for rain on twelve of the next fourteen days. Most of that will run off into the ocean this year as it has since time immemorial but, before long, we may have to divert that runoff into reservoirs in the local mountains to ensure supply during the dry season. The important part is that we can do just that if we need to. Most of the world isn't so lucky.

The World Water Forum has just wrapped up in Turkey. It didn't really achieve much except to infuriate environmentalists. From Deutsche Welle:

...campaigners representing the rural poor, the environment and organized labor attacked the forum as a vehicle for water privatization and called for it to be placed under the UN flag.

"We demand that the allocation of water be decided in an open, transparent and democratic forum rather than in a trade show for the world's large corporations," said Maude Barlow, senior advisor to the president of the UN General Assembly.

The World Water Forum is staged by the World Water Council, a French-based organization whose funding comes in large part from the water industry.

Water shortages are now spreading into North America, particularly the southern US. We're coming to understand the price that we'll have to pay for taking water pretty much for granted over the past century. In most of the world and large parts of North America we've been running a freshwater deficit, draining far more of it than nature can replenish. What we couldn't get from rivers and lakes we pumped out of acquifers heedless of the fact that we were developing a society dependent on water supplies that could not be maintained. We've been burning that candle at both ends and we're getting very close to the middle.

Global warming won't reduce precipitation. A warmer atmosphere will allow more water vapour to form (itself a greenhouse gas) hence more rain. The problem is that climate change alters precipitation patterns. It gives rise to feast or famine conditions, drought and floods often in the same place in the same year. California has been cycling through this for some time. One Californian recently described his state as having four seasons - flood, drought, fire and earthquakes.

Water is as fundamental to any society as the foundation is to your house. While it's intact, your house is fine. When it collapses, so does your house. Societies need a steady and reliable supply of fresh water for drinking, washing, sanitation, industry and, of course, agriculture. The rarely mentioned scourge of the Athabasca Tar Sands is the massive amount of water taken to extract and process bitumen and the resulting water contamination left behind. Remember Mikey, it's more than CO2.

There is water in abundance - in the oceans - but converting it to freshwater is expensive, uses a lot of fossil fuel and leaves some pretty nasty residue to be disposed of, usually back into the sea. And, of course, the further you have to transport it from the coast the greater the cost. It should be a last resort and in parts of the Middle East it's just that but one they're resorting to quite freely.

We really have to stop taking water for granted and we have to open our eyes to the predicament we're facing, even here in Canada. The Grand Old Man of Alberta, former premier Peter Lougheed knows that there's trouble on the horizon for his province and Saskatchewan. When we settled and developed them we thought we understood the environment there. Only recently have we discovered that the period since the arrival of Europeans has been unduly wet. What we thought of as normal wasn't. Science has now shown that the "normal" conditions for the prairie provinces include mega-droughts up to to 60-years duration. Not exactly ideal conditions for urban development.

For some reason we're compelled to treat the current bounty as the status quo. Yet the longer we let this go unmet, the more difficult becomes the challenge of adaptation when we finally must act.

Maude Barlow wants the water issue placed at the top of the pile for discussion and debate. She's right.

Last Call for the Almighty Dollar?

The American dollar has been the currency of international trade for most, probably all of your lifetime. That may be about to change.

At last year's OPEC summit, a mistakenly live microphone transmitted a discussion about dropping the exclusive use of the US dollar for pricing oil in favour of a basket of currencies, including the Euro and others.

Some Europeans have been musing recently about ditching the greenback. Now it's the Chinese. From the Associated Press:

China is calling for a new global currency controlled by the International Monetary Fund. Ahead of a London summit of global leaders, the country is stepping up pressure for changes to a financial system dominated by the U.S. dollar and Western governments.

[Chinese central bank] Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan's essay did not mention the dollar by name.
But it said the crisis showed the dangers of relying on one country's currency for international payments.

In an unusual step, the essay was published in both Chinese and English, making clear it was meant for an international audience.

The world's acceptance of the United States dollar as its reserve currency has helped America cope with its crushing debt situation. China, for example, holds a trillion dollars worth of US reserves which gives it a compelling interest in maintaining the health of the American economy. If a distinct global currency emerged, America could suddenly feel the sting of exchange fluctuations and a weakening of foreign support for its economy.

A Case to Answer

The Guardian has reported on a 3-week investigation into war crimes during the assault on Gaza. It would be rash to conclude, based on the reporters' accounts, that Israel committed the alleged crimes and the Israeli military flatly denies each and every allegation. However these reports don't stand alone. They're also corroborated by reports coming in from the United Nations, the Red Cross and numerous humanitarian organizations. Worse yet, they're consistent with statements now coming out from Israeli soldiers who took part in the attacks.

These accounts, from such diverse sources - Palestinian, Israeli and neutral - warrant a formal investigation or inquiry. Unfortunately that would have to be ordered by the UN Security Council and subject to veto by the United States.

Will the Canadian government call for such an investigation? Will the leader of the Official Opposition? What do you think? I think they would like to pretend this never happened.

Read the story and watch the three video reports here:


Obama Makes His Move

The White House may finally move to seize debt-ridden insurance companies. The Washington Post says that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has asked Congress for authority to take over non-bank financial institutions whose failure could torpedo the American economy.

The target is AIG, the giant American International Group.

The idea seems to be that it's cheaper for the government to simply take over AIG, pay out its book value to its creditors, and then get it back in business with a clean slate and return it to private ownership. The key is to keep the business operating as a going concern while the government resolves the company's crushing debt load.

"The administration's proposal contains two pieces. First, it would empower a government agency to take on the new role of systemic risk regulator with broad oversight of any and all financial firms whose failure could disrupt the broader economy. The Federal Reserve is widely considered to be the leading candidate for this assignment. But some critics warn that this could conflict with the Fed's other responsibilities, particularly its control over monetary policy.

"The government also would assume the authority to seize such firms if they totter toward failure.

"Besides seizing a company outright, the Treasury Secretary could use a range of tools to prevent its collapse, such as guaranteeing losses, buying assets or taking a partial ownership stake. Such authority also would allow the government to break contracts, such as the agreements to pay $165 million in bonuses to employees of AIG's most troubled unit."

While the Republican insurgency will try to block the move it appears that there's enough support among congressional Democrats to push it through.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dear Michael

Hi, it's me again. I know I'm not your favourite follower but I do consider myself a genuine Liberal so I hope you'll indulge me one more time.

It's about that guy from the Jewish Defence League, Peter Kent's pal Meir Weinstein. I'm sure you heard that Weinstein has been working overtime to keep British MP George Galloway out of Canada. In response to Galloway's Canadian defenders and the MPs vow to speak to Canadians some other way, Weinstein said, “If he uses those other means, we will see to it that the Canadian government will be monitoring every individual and organization that will have anything to do with it.”

Now Mike that sounds to me like this guy is saying he'll "see to it" that the Canadian government will be spying on individuals and organizations that happen to offend the JDL. Now I don't know you very well but I have known Liberal leaders in the past and I honestly can't think of one who wouldn't stand up for Canadians and their democratic freedoms in the face of these bullying threats.

You're the leader of the Official Opposition. For that you get a nice salary, a bunch of perks and a house to boot. But you're supposed to do more than write slightly tedious book reviews for the New York Times. You're supposed to stand up for us, the Canadian people or have I just had that wrong these last 60-years?

Mike, Weinstein makes it sound as though he's got the Harper government in his pocket and it even looks like he does. The government hasn't rebuked Weinstein or repudiated his inference that he'll have them monitor dissenting Canadians.

So Mike, if the government isn't going to stand up for the Canadian people, what's your excuse?

Want to Hit Back at Fox? Call Your Cable Company.

That little nest of diseased vipers also known as Fox News has really gone too far in mocking Canada's military and our contribution to the war in Afghanistan.

No point e-mailing Fox. Straight into the electronic dustbin.

Here's something you can do. Write your cable provider - Shaw or Rogers mainly - and demand that they drop Fox News from their lineup. They've already got plenty of porn channels, Fox News won't be missed.

Jonathon Kay Bites Fox News on the Ass

It takes some doing for a scribbler from the National Toast to tear a strip off Fox News but that only makes today's piece by Jonathan Kay that much more enjoyable. Read it for yourself:


Last I heard, CanWest, Kay's employer, owner of the financially challenged rag, also held the Canadian rights to Fox.

There's Nothing Sinister in Being Left-Handed

Yes we're a minority but aren't the "best & brightest" always a minority?

The Washington Post today tries to figure out the left-handed advantage. Five of the past seven US presidents have been lefties including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (alright, Reagan is in there too).

It may be a fluke. But even if it isn't, exactly what left-handedness has to do with political skill, intelligence, popularity, family connections, wealth and luck -- all at play in our selection of national leaders -- is almost certainly a matter of subtle advantage, not one of dramatic benefit.

Yes that's right you great unwashed horde of right-handed peasants. We lefties rule! And we know it.

We may be outnumbered but our ranks are legend and include: Jon Stewart, Helen Keller, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Baden-Powell, David Letterman, Matt Groening, Henry Ford, Osama bin Laden (oops, how did he get in?), Jack the Ripper, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Jimi Hendrix, and an endless swarm of legendary actors, entertainers and athletes; George Patton, Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Alexander the Great - beginning to get the picture yet? - Hans Christian Anderson, James Baldwin and Lewis Carrol, Mark Twain and H.G. Wells, Bob Dylan and (gulp) Celine Dion, Simon Bolivar and Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Horatio Nelson, Aristotle and Nietzsche, Samuel Adams and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Bill Gates and John D. Rockefeller, Clarence Darrow, F. Lee Bailey and Melvin Belli, Marie Curie and Linus Pauling, Albert Einstein, Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

The list goes on and on from Pharaohs to the great conquerors of the world, the best and brightest. I feel positively sorry for you less gifted types but it's not like you're hard done by. Left in Latin is "sinister", in French it's "gauche." In Latin, right is "dexter." Being ambidextrous means "both right." Right has somehow come to mean correct or good. As a noun it's a benefit, freedom or privilege. You'll never see a Bill of Lefts, will you?

You Too Can Be a Border Patrol Agent - Seriously, You Can!

Want to help keep America's border with Mexico safe?

Well if you really have nothing else to do with your time you can log onto http://www.blueservo.net/ and sign up to become a volunteer with the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition Texas Virtual Neighborhood Watch programme.

The programme has a network of web cams set up to allow volunteers to monitor border areas for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants seeking to find their fortune in the United States. 15 cameras are up and running. The network will eventually have 200 in all.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Afghanistan's Delusion of Sovereignty or How the West Wants to Topple Hamid Karzai

Afghanistan is a sovereign nation, right? It's had a parliamentary election and another is just months away. It has a constitution. It has a judiciary. It has a president and a cabinet and a legislature. It has an army and a national police force. That sounds pretty much like a sovereign state - only it's not.

A report in The Guardian claims that the US and key European allies want to bypass president Hamid Karzai by "appointing" a prime minister to serve as Afghanistan's chief executive. They're also looking at ways to bypass Kabul so that aid money goes directly to the provinces.

Many US and European officials have become disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August.

...A diplomat with knowledge of the review said: "Karzai is not delivering. If we are going to support his government, it has to be run properly to ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not increase. The levels of corruption are frightening."

Another diplomat said alternatives to Karzai had been explored and discarded: "No one could be sure that someone else would not turn out to be 10 times worse. It is not a great position."

"Not a great position" indeed. It's sort of like toppling the very government the West installed. This should send droves of nationalists flocking to join the ranks of the insurgency. Worse yet, it will give some of the corrupt warlords who've been sitting on the fence reason to also begin supporting the insurgency. After all, if Karzai is going to be sidelined by the West, it undermines the warlords' motivation to support the central government which could be enough to nudge the insurgency into a full-blown civil war.

The risk for the US is that the imposition of a technocrat alongside Karzai would be viewed as colonialism, even though that figure would be an Afghan. Karzai declared his intention last week to resist a dilution of his power. Last week he accused an unnamed foreign government of trying to weaken central government in Kabul.

"That is not their job," the Afghan president said. "Afghanistan will never be a puppet state."

Oh yeah? Says who?


The Rot in Karzai's Government

It was last year that the eminent British think tank commonly known as Chatham House diagnosed Afghanistan's fatal affliction as the "nexus" of a corrupt government, a narco-economy and the Taliban insurgency which the Royal Institute described as being hand in glove.

Better late than never, The Globe & Mail reports that corrupt Afghan officials are facilitating the drug trade that then assists the Taliban. Quelle surprise!

In the shadow of the craggy mountains overlooking the road between Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad, a specially trained unit of police conducted a nearly perfect ambush of a drug dealer.

Officers surrounded Sayyed Jan's vehicle so quickly that his two bodyguards never had a chance to fire their weapons, and he was caught moving at least 183 kilograms of pure heroin.

But the Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan realized they had a problem when they discovered that Mr. Jan's powerful friends included their own boss. The drug dealer was carrying a signed letter of protection from General Mohammed Daud Daud, the deputy minister of interior responsible for counternarcotics, widely considered Afghanistan's most powerful anti-drug czar.

That document, along with other papers and interviews with well-placed sources, show that Gen. Daud has safeguarded shipments of illegal opiates even as he commands thousands of officers sworn to fight the trade. Some accuse the deputy minister of taking a major cut of dealers' profits, ranking him among the biggest players in Afghanistan's $3-billion (U.S.) drug industry.

General Daud in cahoots with drug traffickers you say? General Daud, former commander of the Northern Alliance, hero of the Battle of Kunduz? General Daud, appointed by Hamid Karzai as the Deputy Ministry of Interior for Counternarcotics. He is also the head of the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA). That Daud?


McKay Knocked From NATO Perch?

It looks like DefMin Peter MacKay's chance of becoming NATO Secretary-General has died on the vine. Just weeks ago the media were reporting that MacKay had the backing of Joe Biden.
Word is out that, whatever Biden may think about it, the US will instead be backing Danish prime minister Anders Rasmussen to succeed Jaap de Hoop Scheffer when he steps down on July 31.

Without Washington's support the idea of a non-European NATO Sec-Gen is a non-starter.


Sorry Bill, We Saw Them Kill Robert Dziekanski

The Tory bureaucrat handed the reins of the RCMP by Stephen Harper has come out with his first statement on the tasering death of Robert Dziekanski and it's a remarkably lame dodge at that.

Commissioner Bill Elliot says the public - those of us who've had the chance to watch that grotesque video - shouldn't prejudge the four young, fit, healthy, armed and armoured cops who put Dziekanski to death. From the Conservative Television Network:

...Elliott has called on the public to wait for "a sober, sound examination of the facts and the circumstance" before forming negative opinions of the national police force.

... Elliott said the public must understand the very quick decisions that RCMP officers are forced to make when working on the job.

"They don't realize how quickly things happen and they don't realize how quickly often -- unfortunately -- bad things happen."

Well Bill, the execution of Robert Dziekanski was certainly quick so I guess you've got a point there. And rest assured Mr. Commissioner that we do understand. Everyone around the world who watched that video understands. Everyone who has read the astonishing and false statements the officers gave in the immediate aftermath understands. These are guys who are trained observers and yet, before they were aware that a civilian video existed, they all gave accounts completely dispelled by that video.

Bill, we understand. We get it. Do you?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In the Name of the Liberal Party of Canada

"At the beginning the directive was to enter a house with an armoured vehicle, to break the door down, to start shooting inside and – I call it murder – to shoot at everyone we identify. In the beginning I asked myself how could this make sense? Higher-ups said it is permissible because everyone left in the city [Gaza City] is culpable because they didn't run away."
That is the testimony of a squad leader of the Israeli Army that rolled over the Palestinian population of Gaza, one of many such accounts now pouring out from Israeli soldiers plagued by their consciences.
And why the total silence from the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada who condoned this butchery and absolved Israel, in advance, for these deaths claiming that the deaths of Palestinian civilians at the hands of Israeli troops was to be blamed on Hamas. This is what Michael Ignatieff did in the name of the Liberal Party of Canada and its members.
Evidence that can only be described as grotesque is coming out not from Hamas, not from Palestinians, not from international relief workers but from Israeli soldiers, the very people who had their fingers on the triggers. Among other things they tell of military rabbis who exhorted the soldiers to ethnically cleanse the Holy Land of Israel, God's Israel, of these Palestinian gentiles.
Were any of these possibilities in Michael Ignatieff's mind when he threw the Liberal Party's wholehearted support behind Israel at the outset of this conflict? It brings to mind the words of another Liberal MP from 2006:
"Michael is an intelligent person and I would think that he would have a better handle on the Middle East given his years of experience on human rights and international law."
That was Susan Kadis rebuking Iggy for labelling the Israeli cluster bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana a "war crime." Ignatieff was unquestionably right on the cluster bombing and I'm sure he knew it just as he knew that saying so was politically wrong. It was a defining moment in the life of the Liberal leader, one that carries on to this day. He's got a better handle now Sue.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hey Iggy, You Backed THIS

I began having grave doubts about Michael Ignatieff's fitness to lead the Liberal Party when he gave his unequivocal endorsement of Israel's attack on Gaza. It was neither balanced nor nuanced and seemed calculated to appeal to a certain voting demographic at home at the cost of abandoning traditional Liberal even-handedness. Ignatieff essentially absolved Israel of blame for its actions in Gaza.

The problem with Iggy's reckless absolutism on the Israeli war on Gaza is getting tainted with the unfortunate aftermath, being stuck with having endorsed what were, in reality, war crimes. From the Associated Press:

JERUSALEM (AP) — An increasingly disturbing picture of the Israeli army's conduct in the Gaza war emerged Friday, as new witness accounts from Israeli troops described wanton vandalism to Palestinian homes, humiliation of civilians and loose rules of engagement that resulted in unnecessary civilian deaths.

The revelations of soldier conduct over the past two days have set off soul-searching and alarm in a country where the military is widely revered. They also have echoed Palestinian allegations that Israel's assault did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, at a time when some international human rights groups contend Israel violated the laws of war.

...The Israeli government has insisted it did all it could to prevent civilian casualties, but on Thursday, the army ordered a criminal inquiry into its own soldiers' reports that some troops killed civilians, including children, by hastily opening fire, confident that the relaxed rules of engagement would protect them.

The inquiry was based on postwar testimony from a gathering of soldiers involved in the offensive, published in a military institute's newsletter and leaked to two Israeli newspapers. The Haaretz daily published additional details Friday, and the transcript of the session was obtained by The Associated Press.

...Another soldier, Ram, described what appeared to be a rift between secular and religious soldiers.

"What I do remember in particular at the beginning is the feeling of an almost religious mission," he said. He described a "huge gap" between background material provided by the army's education corps, and religious material distributed by the army's rabbinate.

"Their message was very clear: 'We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle. God brought us back to this land, and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land,'" he said.

This is the reality Michael Ignatieff finds politically expedient to ignore. I honestly don't see how that sort of person is fit to lead the Liberal Party of Canada.

Four More Dead in Kandahar

Two bombs, four Canadian dead. Eight other soldiers wounded. What are we doing, trolling for land mines?

There's a sickening futility to this carnage. It's death delivered by remote control, the enemy unseen or even long gone. It speaks to who actually controls the territory - those who are able to plant and conceal these explosives with impunity.


Climates of Fear

You have to give them their due. Over the past decade, the right wing has demonstrated an unrivalled mastery of fear as a tool of political manipulation. It's said that humans have a strong attraction to fear which accounts for the steady stream of horror movies and action flicks. I guess that makes us predisposed to a Pavlovian response when we're bombarded with warnings of imminent danger, real or simply imagined.

Right wingers - politicians, preachers and pundits - use fear as a construct, carefully crafting a subset of things to fear and, just as importantly, things not to fear. Things to fear include terrorism, foreigners and socialism. Things not to fear range from global warming to authoritarianism. It gives rise to a black and white, good/bad dichotomy that, by virtue of its simplicity and absolutism becomes ridiculously easy to inculcate and perpetuate.

We know that, with rare exception, virtually nothing is truly black or white. It's all varying shades of grey but sometimes things that are genuinely dingy are still presented to us as white and pure and good. The more we're conditioned by fear the more likely we are to have prejudices and biases that allow us to accept as white what is truly grey. Isn't that after all the real basis of the "my enemy's enemy" line of thought?

I don't much care for the American national anthem but the last line is genuinely prescient. "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave." There's a direct link between bravery and freedom. There is no freedom without bravery. What is bravery then? Isn't it the rejection and overcoming of fear? You may still be afraid but you're brave enough to confront your fear and surmount it.

What is terrorism but the application of fear to achieve a desired response? The whole essence of terrorism is to provoke a predictable reaction. Fear, palpable even tangible, that sends people racing out to empty hardware store shelves of plastic sheeting and duct tape.

The Bush-Cheney regime used fear as a weapon or tool against the American people. Armed with their talking points they would barrage the American public by swamping the media with images of Saddam Hussein and mushroom clouds or chemical weapon attacks on the Homeland. Remember Homeland Security director Tom Ridge's colour-coded alert system that curiously only seemed to spike at moments when political interests also peaked?

Fear was used by the White House against the American people to garner support for a bellicose foreign policy and illegal wars of conquest and occupation. Fear was used to render the public insecure enough that they would surrender constitutional freedoms and protections and accept a more invasive, authoritarian government; an oligarchy that served the most advantaged to the detriment of all others.

The Islamist terrorists wanted the American people afraid, cowed. So did the American administration. The Republicans saw fear as a means to win undeserved electoral victories.

Speaking from the grave, Dick Cheney came out last week to have the complacent American media spread the word that Obama's decision to close Guantanamo would leave the United States vulnerable to another terrorist attack. Now you would have thought a responsible media would have placed Cheney's warning in the context of the litany of lies and empty propaganda he so shamelessly spun over the past eight years but, no, they didn't.

It's become clear of late that Congressional Republicans have decided to stick with the fear gameplan, to adopt it as their vehicle to undermine the public's confidence in Barack Obama. Ignoring the fact that it was the Republican Congress and administration that decriminalized the securities scams that have toppled the global economy and having no ideas beyond further insane tax cuts to remedy their country's predicament, these political hacks and their collaborative pundits are waging a determined campaign to make the American people fearful of their president and his measures to salvage America's economy. They shamelessly depict Obama's policies as begetting socialism and political tyranny.

It's a scary thing to be an American today. The former Comptroller General last year warned anyone who would listen that the American governments' debt and unfunded obligations such as Social Security represented an average indebtedness of $480,000 per household. That was before the bailout and stimulus emergency budgets. Who wouldn't be scared by that, especially those with employment insecurities and personal debt problems?

These are hard times indeed for much of the planet and particularly for the United States. It is now when America most needs a brave citizenry willing to look fearlessly at what they're facing and the arduous path to recovery. If they can find that bravery it is conceivable that America may emerge from this travail a better place than it has been since Reagan inflicted his toxic ideology on the country. If they can find that bravery, they just might restore their Constitution to its rightful place as the repository of their freedoms and protections. The Republicans know this. It's why they're so determined to once again enslave their own people with those damned rusty chains of fear.

Vancouver Cops' New Drug Policy

I'm not sure this isn't merely a restatement of what has already become standard procedure but Vancouver police patrolling the city's troubled Downtown Eastside will no longer be arresting and charging druggies for simple possession. The policy is intended to free up officers for street duties. From the Vancouver Sun:

"We'll come across people all day long who have maybe a few rocks of cocaine in their pocket, or maybe a bit of methamphetamine, [for] personal use," said Const. Jana McGuinness. "Technically, yes, you could arrest and you could tie up two officers for four hours writing a report like that.
"That's where the discretion will be employed. Where they can, say, seize the drugs, get the drugs off the street and then go about their business of being out there stopping other crimes."

Less paperwork will mean more officers on the street to tackle street disorder, McGuinness said. The police business plan identifies a number of behaviours the force is trying to curb, including aggressive panhandling, squeegeeing, open-air drug markets, unlicensed street vending and sleeping in city parks.

It's curious there's no mention of street prostitution. Obviously Vancouver is trying to clean up its streets before the tourists arrive for the 2010 Olympics

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pope's Euro Smackdown

Joe "The Rat" Ratzinger, better known to the likes of you as Pope Benedict Ex-Vee-Eye, just keeps stepping in it and tracking crap all across the Vatican carpets. It seems that when he opens his mouth, weird stuff can come out. His latest Holy Gaffe, on the eve of his scheduled tour of Africa, was to proclaim that the scourge of HIV/AIDS would be made worse, not better, by the distribution of condoms.

Now Pope Joe has the Euros in an uproar. France, Germany and Belgium to put the Divine Smackdown on Benny XVI. From The Guardian:

Eric Chevallier, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry, said in an online briefing: "France voices extremely sharp concern over the consequences of Benedict XVI's comments. While it is not up to us to pass judgment on church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life."

Laurette Onkelinx, Belgium's health minister, said the pope's comments reflected "a dangerous doctrinaire vision". "His declarations could demolish years of prevention and education and endanger many human lives," she said.

In Berlin, German health minister Ulla Schmidt and development minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul criticised the pope's remarks in a joint statement and underlined the importance of condom use in developing nations.

"Condoms save lives, in Europe as well as on other continents," the ministers said. "Modern assistance to the developing world today must make access to family planning available to the poorest of the poor especially the use of condoms. Anything else would be irresponsible."

If it's not the Holocaust, it's AIDS. Who made this guy pope anyway and what were they thinking?

When Earth Explodes

Dramatic video today of an underwater volcano erupting just off the coast of Tonga. We're told there's one of these things building off the west coast of Vancouver Island although ours is believed to be relatively small right now. Fortunately for the Tongans the prevailing Trade Winds are carrying the gas and pumice away, toward Fiji.

Obama Wants to Double Afghan Army

It's been a long, long time coming but finally an American administration has become serious about giving Afghanistan the army it needs. Afghan soldiers - not Europeans or North Americans.

The New York Times reports that Obama's vision for the way out of Afghanistan is to create an Afghan security force of 400,000 soldiers and national police officers more than three times the number that American commanders in 2002 thought would be sufficient. According to the paper, the plan is based on, "the hope that a much larger professional army and national police force could fill a void left by the central government and do more to promote stability in the country."

There is some concern that a mega-army could create a military rival for power with the Kabul government. We in the West have a fairly black and white opinion on military rule which has, in some cases, proven a better vehicle to democratic reform than corrupt civil administration. In some South American countries the societies were dominated by landed gentry, typically of European descent, in which social advancement for the native population was limited to the armed forces. The ruling class retained a decidedly oppressive grip on both power and wealth that was broken only by military coup. Now these things tend to be messy and they were fraught with betrayal and corruption but, eventually, they did in many cases make way for democratic reform.

We can build Afghanistan an army but we've done a miserable job at building that country an effective, democratic government and I suspect it's from that perspective that Obama has decided to focus on security rather than governance. He must've read that old memo about how securing Afghanistan would require 3-400,000 troops and worked out that trying to muster that many American forces was neither feasible nor, in the long term, would it be effective.

Once again you see clear logic in this president's thinking, not the dull "gut instinct" decision making of his predecessor.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in Congress. Based on their joint opinion piece in today's Washington Post, it would appear the Obama plan will be a winner with senators McCain and Lieberman: